Silent Cry: Dalits in Bangladesh

Caste and occupation-based discrimination remains one of the most severe and forgotten human rights abuses of the twenty-first century. Many groups who face this type of discrimination are identified as untouchables and have taken on the identity of Dalits. Dalit” is a Bengali word which literally means “someone trampled under the feet of someone else”.

 It is used to identify an outcast minority of oppressed, exploited and deprived people. Dalits in Bangladesh face various forms of discrimination and challenges due to their social status. There are between 5.5 to 6.5 million unseen Dalits in Bangladesh.

 The majority of Dalits are usually very poor leading a hand to mouth kind of existence. As an excluded community, they continue to work in some of the most menial, low paid, and dangerous jobs in the country, such as cleaning toilets, sweeping streets, and emptying the septic tanks of others. Sometimes they face severe forms of human rights violations, including abduction, rape, torture, threats, intimidation, as well as the destruction of their houses and eviction from their land.

Despite all the difficulties in their lives, these marginalized people still dream of a better future. Perhaps they dream of a day when their children will not be judged based on their birth identity but on their qualities.

Every day we walk down the clean streets but we never look back and think about who keeps the streets and sewer systems clean. They are the most unseen people. No one listens to their silent cries. I always wanted to deliver their voices to all of you and show you their hidden pains, struggles and anguish.

To do that, I have been visiting Dalit communities all over Bangladesh for the last 4 years and collecting their stories. I have been documenting their everyday lives through my lens to shed light on the suffering of these marginalized people.

I am sharing now some of the real-life stories of these unseen people, whose lives continue with silent weeping…

Featured first on my Facebook page: GMB Akash

iddis 80 , cleaner, from vola

I was not born cleaner. I was an innocent kid who would vomit in bad odor. No one from my family ever was a cleaner. But now I have spent seventy years of my life by cleaning filth and dirt of others. I started doing this work to save my family from starvation. The day I started working as cleaner my whole family’s identity was turned into one name ‘Cleaner’s family’. My mother was called cleaner’s mother. In these seventy years, no one ever told me that my work is important or I am important. I have noticed people do not look at me as a human, they do not do eye contact or come very close, and they do not let me to sit inside their house. For everyone I am just a sweaper or cleaner. No one ever asked me, how it feels to wake up in the morning and without having any breakfast just go inside the pile of filth or gutter.

When my mother was very sick, one day I burst out in tears to her and asked for her forgiveness. She asked me why I was asking her to forgive. I told her that because of me for decades she was addressed as a cleaner’s mother. I humiliated her because I was not able to become a mechanic or even a labourer. She touched my head and told me that I have already become someone that no one can become. She told me, only few people can clean other people’s dirt by becoming dirty and the incredible one can do that for family. She told me how proud she is because I gave her food that comes from pure honesty.

After my mother’s death, I continued to do the same work I was doing, cleaning filth. One day I found a gold chain and I quickly hid it before my coworkers saw it. When I was returning home I was clean and tidy but that chain was inside my pocket and I was feeling all over dirty. I could not eat that day and thought how that gold chain can change my destiny, my life. I planned to give it to my sister in her marriage, I planned to sell it and start a business, I planned everything I could plan in my wildest dream but I could not sleep peacefully for the first time in my life. After a few days I sold the chain and took the money. The money was with me for nearly a month. I could not sleep peacefully for a single night. The day before Eid festival I was sitting in the local shop of my slum. A boy arrived there and begged to the shopkeeper to give him some rice so his family could have something to eat during Eid day. The shopkeeper scolded him and he walked away. I was seeing him weeping and going to home.

At night I did bazaar for the poor families of my slum with the money I had. I spent every penny. Everyone was surprised and asked me what had happened. I did not lie to anyone but did not tell the truth too. When I went to sleep at night I was poor again, a poor cleaner on his mattress. But I was able to sleep that night and dreamed my mother for the first time after her death. I saw her very young, in a beautiful saree, She was smiling and proudly telling everyone. ‘I am the cleaner’s mother. My son can be dirty but no one’s heart is as clean as him’.

_Idris Ali (80)

Bhai street (47)

I found out my daughter had an affair with a boy for five years. She never spoke about it as she is always afraid of me. Apart from that, I assumed my children always hated me for the job I have been doing since my childhood. I asked her to bring the boy and his family to our house. I decorated the house like a new bride and bought the best food for them. I have been saving for my daughter’s marriage for twenty years. That day my daughter was the happiest I had ever seen her. When the boy’s family started the conversation they brought out a note of demands. They wanted all the material things a family needs. I was calculating and nodding in agreement with every word they said. After all, it’s about the happiness of my daughter. The last point was that they did not want me to introduce myself in front of their relatives and that I should never go to visit my daughter. The moment they said that, my daughter screamed in anger and by surprising all, she slapped the boy. She angrily said, ‘My father can do the thing that no one else can do. Not everyone can clean the messes of others. I am proud of what he does and if you do not leave my house in one minute, I will beat you all.’ She broke the marriage proposal and ended her five-year relationship in one second. From that day on, I knew how fortunate and happy a person I am.’

_Sweeper Monu lal

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Why do you want to take my picture? No one will like me. For everyone I am a sweeper’s daughter. At childhood I used to go to a field near by us, I wanted to play with girls of my age. Their parents never allowed them to play. One day I asked one of the girl why they were not taking me to play. She said, ‘Don’t you know you are a sweeper’s girl?’ I have never gone to that field since then. Do you know what our people do? We clean your dirt, we pure you but for you all, we are the dirtiest people who do not even deserve your two minutes attention. I am sure you are wasting your time, no one is going to like this picture, and by standing outside garbage no one has time to appreciate a sweeper or his girl.

_A sweeper’s girl (that’s what she wanted to use as her name)

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I had never seen any love or care for us in anyone’s eyes. When I work people give me a feeling that I came out from Hell.  We cannot sit anywhere to have a cup of tea. People look at us like they look at dirt. There were days when I hid my tears after being insulted by strangers for no reason.  I was sure there was no love left in this world for poor.

Ten years ago, I was working beside a children school. My job was to clean the drain and repair the site. We blocked the road and it was taking a few days. So the children had to walk to their school. I attentively did my work every day without noticing anyone who could again insult my job. One day a little girl arrived, smile widely at me and said, ‘Why are you so dirty?’ Before I could say anything, her father dragged her away by saying, she should never talk to strangers. I felt horrible, imagined he must be telling her daughter how disgusting workers like me were. And then for a week, she came to me every time with same question, why was I so dirty. I never got chance to speak as her father was always there to drag her away. I could not sleep those nights by thinking about a beautiful reply, ‘why I am dirty’. Poor cannot be clean all the time, we are born in dirt, raise in dirt and die in dirt and no one care when a dirty thing left the world. I could not say any of this to her. I wanted to quickly finish the job and never wanted to see the girl ever again.

At last day when we were finishing the work, it was Ramadan afternoon. I was very tired and down. The school was close and the baby girl did not arrive. I felt relieved, packed everything and was about to leave, suddenly I saw the little girl coming to me by running. She could not breathe properly when she arrived. I was waiting to hear the same question, but she did not say anything except smiling. Then I asked her, where her father is. She showed me a car standing far from us. I waited to hear the same thing. And then she opened her mouth, ‘Uncle, do you like red color?’ By bringing a packet behind from her she handed it in my hand. Her father gave horn and she quickly said, ‘I cannot clean drain, but I can help you to be clean. This shirt is for you, Uncle.’ I could not say a word and she rushed when her father gave repetitive horns. The girl left me on tears. She proved me, human still cares for human. I do not know where she is now, what she might be doing. I pray to God everyday, wherever that little angel is, may God clean all dirts from her life.

_Shohrab

GMB Akash (51)

I never told my children what my job was. I never wanted them to feel ashamed because of me. When my youngest daughter asked me what I did, I used to tell her hesitantly that I was a labourer. Before I went back home every day, I used to take a bath in the public toilets so they did not get any hint of the work I was doing. I wanted to send my daughters to school, to educate them. I wanted them to stand in front of people with dignity. I never wanted anyone to look down upon them like the way everyone did to me. People always humiliated me. I invested every penny of my earnings for my daughters’ education. I never bought a new shirt, instead I used the money for buying books for them. Respect is all I wanted them to earn for me. I was a cleaner. The day before the last date of my daughter’s college admission, I could not manage to get her admission fees. I could not work that day. I was sitting beside the rubbish, trying hard to hide my tears. All my co-workers were looking at me but no one came to speak to me.

I had failed and felt heartbroken. I had no idea how to face my daughter who would ask me about the admission fees once I got back home. I was born poor. I believed nothing good can happen to a poor person. After work all the cleaners came to me, sat beside me and asked if I considered them as brothers. Before I could answer, they each handed me their one day’s income. When I tried to refuse everyone; they confronted me by saying, ‘We will starve today if needed, but our daughter has to go to college.’ I couldn’t reply to them. That day I did not take a shower; I went back to my house like a cleaner. My oldest daughter is going to finish her University very soon. Three of them do not let me go to work anymore. My oldest girl has a part time job and the other three of them do tuition. Oftentimes, my oldest daughter takes me to my working place. She feeds all my co-workers along with me. They laugh and ask her why she feeds them so often. My daughter told them, ‘All of you starved for me that day so I can become what I am today, pray for me that I can feed you all, every day.’ Nowadays I don’t feel like I am a poor man. Whoever has such children, how can he be poor?

_Idris

Bhai street (14)

I lost my mother when I was very young. I always tried to please my stepmother. But for unknown reasons, she could not even tolerate my shadow. She had beaten me a lot as a child. I used to stand silently during the times she had beaten me. I could not cry, because she told me that if I cried, she will throw me out of the house. After silently suffering all of this violent abuse, one day finally, she threw me out my home anyway. I cried loudly all night while standing in front of the closed door, but not even my father came out to take me back. I came to Dhaka from Chadpur. I used to roam around all the streets and sometimes ate from dustbins. Then one day I got this job; a job of a sweeper. But the sad thing is that everyone hates us and no one talks to us. Today I am very happy, brother, because nobody ever took my photo; no one ever wanted to know if I have something to share. When you tell my story to people, please tell them not to hate the sweepers. If we stop cleaning, you will die. We are your servants; we go into your rubbish. By becoming dirty, we cleanse you. Please tell the people to not look at us with hatred.

_Md. Rabbi (18)

 

 

 

 

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Born to work

No one has the time to listen to these unfortunate children who are mostly unseen humans. I always wanted to deliver their voices to all of you and show you their hidden pain and anguish. I tell their stories, depict their emotions, and steal their sorrows into my frames…  If any one of you spends even one second in a thought to help them or even to pray for them, this in itself, is the reward of all my hard work.

 If these stories ever touch your hearts, please feel free to share them. Even your help alone can awaken other people to bring their hands to these lost souls…

_Gmb Akash

Sharing 10 real life stories of unfortunate child labourers who were born to work. Feel your heart melt…

Featured first on my Facebook page: GMB Akash

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No, I don’t go to school nowadays. I had to choose between school and food for feeding my mother and little brothers. My father died last year in this same factory from a heat stroke when he was melting iron in the fire place. In this intolerable heat no one can work if they are not accustomed to it. He was a very strong person and was used to working in the heat. He used to work a lot for us. No one believed he could die here from this heat. After my father’s death I got my father’s job here. I use the same hammer and the same machine but I don’t feel strong like him. I feel very tired, sleepy and hungry. I miss going to school, I miss playing with my friends I miss swimming in the nearby river. My father used to buy me colorful ice cream when we used to feel hot. I miss eating ice cream every minute nowadays when it feels hot like hell here. I have one uncle who buys me ice cream sometimes and helps me in my work when I can’t do anything. I want to become like him. I want to reduce people’s misery because my ice cream uncle always says “we need each other.”

_Rony

Akash for robi (2)

We come to work at 7 am. Because of working continually, we do not usually notice when it becomes dark outside. We work in darkness, under the yellow lightbulb. Sunlight does not enter our factory. Sometimes when the electricity goes out, we can go outside, but now we do not like to play anymore. We feel tired. Telling you the truth, we become very hungry at 3 pm, but rice is expensive. Our income is 1000 taka per month; how can we spend any for rice? We enjoy this free bread at lunch time; when you are hungry everything is delicious. We do not feel full after having it though. But after returning home in the late evening, mother will give us yummy hot rice with mashed potatoes! It’s good for poor people to eat once a day. Please take a piece of bread sir, it is not that bad.

_Ador, Shohag

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My father died in a road accident 6 years ago which left us on the street. For several days we ate nothing. We had no money and no rice at our home. We could not pay the rent of our one room house. My mother then started working in this brick breaking factory after only a few days of my father’s death. She was not even physically and mentally ready after losing my father. Her eyes were still wet for her loving husband. I saw her crying every night holding my younger brother.

We had nobody else. My father and mother had a love marriage so their families did not accept them. They came to Dhaka in order to survive and my father started riding a rickshaw. But after my father died, my mother alone could not earn enough money, even when she worked from early morning to evening. I saw how she suffered every evening with her body pain. I could not stand to see her struggle alone and I started working with my mother when I was only 6 years old.

My mother cried loudly holding me on her chest the first day I went to work beside her. She never wanted to take me with her to work there. My father always had a dream to send me and my younger brother to school.

I could hardly break 30 bricks a day and could only earn 30 taka on the first day. But now I can break up to 125 bricks and earn 125 taka per day. With my income, I am able to continue to pay for my younger brother Rana’s education. He is a very good student and this year he came second in his class.

For the last 6 months I have been working extra hours to earn more money. Two days ago with this money I bought a new bicycle for my brother, so he can go to his new class and tuition with the bicycle. Before that he used to walk a long distance and he got tired. My brother said when he grows up, he will get a job and he will never let me work here anymore.

_Rotna and her mother Rina Akter

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My mother died a week ago. I do not have her photograph. She wanted to take picture many times but for taking picture you need money. If you come here a week ago I could take you home to my mother. She won’t let you come back without having lunch with us. Whenever someone came to visit us she always had given her portion of food. My mother had three pet cats and only me. No one went to her since she was sick. Every day after returning from work my father asked her why she was not dying. I have seen her dying every day since I was a child. I have a step mother and two step sisters. But my mother taught me to love them though they hated us always. The day my mother died I did not cry. I was happy, happy by looking at her face because she was smiling at me. My mother often used to say when I cry she feels ache in her heart, so I cannot cry; I cannot let my mother soul suffer a bit

_Ador (12)

Akash raw final (2074)tiff

After my father died in a road accident, it was impossible for our mother to manage three meals a day for us. She started working as a maid but still it was not enough money for us to survive.

One day my mother brought me to this factory for work but the owner did not want to take any more children into his factory. But my mother sat with me the whole day outside of the factory for this job forme and kept requesting the owner for a chance to live. Then he gave me this job six months ago.

In the beginning it was very hard for me to work the whole day with these big machines. Sometimes I had problems with this machine noise and I had problems breathing because of the dust all the time. I also had many accidents. A few days ago my hand went inside the machine and I was seriously injured. Today I am back to work again. I cannot just sit at home, I have to help my mother.

Now I am working as an apprentice. I get three meals a day here for my work. After a few months I will get 1500 taka per month. I am eagerly waiting for that day. I want to help my mother. She works so hard from early morning to late at night for her three children. I want to reduce my mother’s burden of poverty.

_Maruf

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There is a Shakib who is the caption of our cricket team and he is a favourite player. There is another Shakib who is a superstar of our Bangla films. My name is also Shakib but I work in a factory from early morning to late evening to earn 500 taka a week for my family.

I have been working in this factory for the last five months. During this period of time I have been working as a trainee, so I don’t receive any salary. The owner of the factory only gives me 500 taka per month for food to eat three times a day.

I don’t have a father; my mother works as a maid and she cannot run our family alone. That is why my mother sent me to work. When I grow up, I will start my own factory. For that I am working attentively to learn this job

_Shakib 12

Akash raw final (1050)tiff

During the winter it’s very difficult for us to work in this underwater stone mine. Its takes an ability to hold one’s breath a very long time to go down into deep cold water and collect these heavy stones and come back. Sometimes it’s harder because the stones are heavier than I am. Oftentimes, I can’t even breathe when I enter the water as it is so cold that it will freeze your body in just a few minutes. But we are accustomed to that now! I don’t know how I have been managing for the last 40 days working in this area.

There are many children who are working in this industry. This is the only job here for poor people like me. Thousands of men women and little children are working day into night.

I never thought I could do this work when I first came with my neighbour. For the first few days, I only collected a meager amount of stones and earned only a little money. They pay for every stone you bring from the deep cold water.

Now I have learned one important thing in my life: “Poverty teaches you so many things and makes you so strong that you can do anything when you have a hungry stomach.”

_ Parvej

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Will you beat me if I tell you the truth? Actually, I am a potato thief. My mother has a high fever so she can’t work. My father had a second marriage and then threw my mother and me away from our house. My father had beaten up my mother so badly that she cannot move properly any more. We somehow managed to sit on the roof of the train and came to Dhaka five days ago. We sleep on the footpath. From morning to afternoon I try to steal potatoes. If I manage to steal some potatoes or vegetables then I can sell them in the bazaar and get 50 taka to buy food for us. From yesterday afternoon till this evening, we haven’t eaten anything. I still cannot steal anything today. I am very hungry

_Mofizul (7)

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I always feel hungry; all the time I only think about some white rice. I only feel less hungry when I am busy at work thinking I have to earn a living and feed four mouths. The last six months my father has not been able to work anymore because he lost his hand while he was working at the mill. He was the only earning person for the four of us.

After that accident I had to leave my school and join this work for feeding myself and my family. My mother wanted to go begging but my father did not allow it. He said “I will die before eating the rice from begging”. I have one sister she feels hungrier than I do nowadays. She always wants to hear stories from me about food. Last night, when she wanted some rice from my mother, my mother replied to her; “Girls should not ask for rice in this way”. I don’t know what the 5-year-old girl understood but she went to sleep eating nothing. She did not ask for food from my mother again.

I understand how hunger feels; I could not do anything without crying silently. The whole night I couldn’t sleep because my stomach was grumbling for some rice too. At dawn for some moments while I fell asleep, I remember I was dreaming about a bowl of rice that I was eating so eagerly. For the last two days our work has been closed so I could not earn anything nor buy any food for my family. Today I am working rapidly. I did not even take a break at lunch time so that I could earn a few more coins to buy more rice and maybe some potatoes. I promised my sister this morning that we will eat a lot of rice tonight. She might be waiting for me the whole day. I am also waiting to finish my work and go home. My father used to say; if you want to eat and earn a living, you have to give your sweat and your blood. He has given a lot of blood for feeding us. Now I am trying to give all my sweat to feed them at least once a day.

_Arif hossain

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My sick mother cannot eat anything. Nothing tastes good to her except beef. She can only eat well if she gets beef in her lunch. I do not have enough money to buy beef for her. It is very costly. But that will not stop me from buying beef for my mother. Every day I get 10 taka for my evening snacks. All children buy bread with that money. But I save my six day snack money by not eating anything. With my savings, on the seventh day, I always buy a half packet of ‘Tehari’ (rice stuffed with beef) for my mother. When she eats it in front of me and says, ‘Babu it’s delicious!’ I feel my stomach is full of all the good food of this world.

_Babu

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Always the same heartless scenario; working children suffering and my own reaction of inner emptiness that freezes my finger preventing contact with the shutter button. But even with all those sorrowful expressions followed by smiles when they give a look, these courageous children push me to overcome anything and then my camera clicks never stop.

– GMB Akash

 

‘Heroes of Life’ – Part IV

‘Heroes of Life’ – are those incredible humans who always find their way to light and love. They had known defeat, suffering, and struggles, yet they possess a beautiful story in their hearts, which is worthy to share with the world.

Sharing 10 real life stories which will definitely melt your heart

Featured first on my Facebook page: GMB Akash

akash (302)

During my whole life I kept my mouth shut to be a good woman. I accepted my fate and all those abuses my entire life but I never could forgive myself. I was ashamed of myself but I couldn’t tell anyone; when at the age of 4 my mother’s own brother used to touch me in bad ways. My mother believed him and even gave me to him to take care of. I couldn’t fight back when my father’s cousin raped me while coming back from school at the age of 5. Crying in pain I told my elder sister. She said, “Do not tell anyone; people will call you a bad girl!” I couldn’t tell my father that the rickshaw puller he reserved for me for my safety to take me to school put his hands in the wrong places when he helped me to get down from the rickshaw. I Told my mother about it and my mother changed the rickshaw driver but she didn’t share it with my father and told me not to share it with anyone. She said, “People will call you bad!” I never could complain to anyone when my school teacher used to touch my back. I could never forget all the abuses that happened to me. I never used to go in front of my uncles when I became a young woman ever again. I was scared of every man in my life.

Every woman dreams about their wedding and their husband. I was also not different from them. But all my dreams were crushed badly as well as all my expectations when on my wedding night I got raped again by my own drunk husband. Even I couldn’t say anything when he brought his friend to my room one night for money. During my pregnancy I used to pray to God, “Please don’t give me a girl because I know she will have to go through all these things I have been tolerating my whole life. But I became the mother of a girl 10 years ago. I never let her hide from my eyes for a minute. I took her everywhere. But I couldn’t keep my mouth shut when that night my husband brought a man into my daughter’s room. I started yelling and screaming insanely. All my anger that I had been carrying my whole life came out as my greatest strength. I couldn’t control myself and took the dagger to stab my husband and the man. They both ran away. I complained to the police and for the last year my husband has been in jail. People call me a bad woman. They say that to me because I had my husband put in jail. I don’t feel shame, rather I feel good when they call me a bad woman. It took 32 years to gather the courage to become a bad woman and shout out for my respect and my dignity._Nazma Begum

akash (301)

 

 

Last year I had a strange passenger in my rickshaw who was very worried about something. He was roaming around from one location to another in my rickshaw like a distraught and insane man for almost two hours. I was very afraid to ask him what the problem was that he is going through? I am a poor uneducated man and he was in a very bad mood. Finally, I discovered when he started to talk on his phone that his wife was in very critical condition in the emergency room. She needed the group type A- blood as soon as possible, otherwise it would be very difficult to save her life. After some time when he dropped his phone, with hesitation I softly asked him, “Baba, would you mind if I ask you to take my blood? I tested my blood last year for an illness and I am aware that I have the same blood type A- that you need for your wife. I am a very honest person with no bad habits and I pray 5 times a day. My only problem is that I am a poor man. Do you have problems taking the blood of a poor person and would you let me give my blood to your wife?” That man, whom I was feeling very afraid of asking a minute ago, started sobbing uncontrollably holding me closely. He hugged me so tightly that I could feel how broken he was at that moment.

I gave my blood at the emergency room and it took 2 hours for everything. But during those two hours I felt like a very special person to everyone as well as to myself; something I had never felt before. That man didn’t ask me if he could give me money because he didn’t want to buy my blood; rather he asked me if he could call me ‘Father’. I never felt so precious and valuable before that moment. Giving my blood that day changed my view of seeing my life as a poor inferior man. I don’t feel poor anymore knowing that I have the same blood to save a rich person’s life_ Abdul Razzak

akash (306)

I thought to kill myself several times . But when I think of my two daughters Pia and Ria, I can not do anything! I have to live for my daughters. My wife’s only dream was to educate our daughters. Both of my daughter got mentally ill after they lost their mother! Now if anything happen to me there will be nobody to take care of them!

‌My wife did everything for my parents .She always took good care of them . But after just four months of her death. My parents already insisting me to get married again! how can people forget their loving person so easily! How can they become so selfish! Its only four month! How this is possible to forget my wife and get married again!

‌Everything I do I miss her. She was very fond of me. After back from work to home, she used to be beside me all the time. She was very caring and supporting. She liked to cook food for Me and always sits beside me until I finished my food properly.

‌But my wife died during our 3rd child delivery time at hospital. During the delivery my wife parvin died but our son survived. When she died I was running here and there for searching blood. I even can not talk to her or see her before she has died. How unfortunate I am.

‌I am really unfortunate or may be I did something wrong in my life. After two months of my wife died my little son Parvej had died. We tried with our everything but could not safe him.

‌Last four month I am mentally sick but keep working for my daughter’s future. I search for my wife and son’s face everywhere. I try to get my Son’s smell every where! I cant forget his face for a second! Every night I wake up to check if my son and wife are sleeping beside me ! Then after few second Realise My son is no more! Then whole night I can not sleep anymore!

‌Every day after my morning prayers I pray to God “ Allah please never takeaway anybody’s son and wife before them. Its so lonely to live without people you love most” _ Pintu

akash (303)

We five sisters are the heart of our father. I am the third child of my father and he thought I was very useless. But I know he loves me the most because I am very fond of him. After marrying off my two elder sisters, my father only had me to rely upon for keeping his money safe, preparing betel leaf for him, giving him the towel when he goes to the shower and every other household chore. My other two sisters were very young. My father used to search for me by calling out, “Where is my tail?” This is because he thought he is the ‘body’ and I was the unbreakable useless part of him, ‘the tail’.

But I had to leave my ‘body’ one day. That day, when I went to Dhaka in search of work and money, leaving ‘my body’, I didn’t cry at all. How could I cry? My responsibility was more important to me than crying.

I remembered that oftentimes in our family home before going to sleep in our room, I used to hear my father telling my mother with his mellow voice, “I wish we had a son then he could earn money for us. I am getting older and sicker day after day. Who will take care of you all?” One night he started crying loudly and said, “My daughters have become my pain and my main burden now. How will I arrange marriages for all of them? I am a poor farmer.” That night I cried the whole night; the whole night I could not sleep. I promised myself that I will take all the responsibilities of my family. I promised I will never get married before I arrange marriages for my sisters and give a better life to my parents.

I started working at Dhaka in a factory and sent money to my father every month for my family and tried to save some money. During those years my father tried to marry me off. He used to make up various issues to call me home. Every time before going home I used to shave my head so that the groom would not like me.

I left Dhaka after 3 years and bought three milking cows with baby calves and started farming at our house. In our village no girls herded cows or goats. Everyone started talking nonsense about me but I didn’t listen to anyone. Why should I stop? I promised myself that I will prove to my father that if you give opportunities and inspiration to a daughter, she can do anything that a son can do.
In the next four years from the six cows we then had 14 cows and 4 calves. I sell milk every day and cows every year during Eid season. My two younger sisters started working with me. On my farm now 3 other girls are also working from our village.

I built a new house for my parents. I took my mother to Dhaka for her eye operation.

My father is very proud of me nowadays. He always keeps telling everybody of our village “daughters are blessings. I am fortunate I have daughters. They are mothers in your old age. If you believe in your daughters, they can do anything. You don’t always need sons for being proud and privileged but you do need a daughter like my Rotna .”- Rotna

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My husband left me on a stormy night when my five-year-old autistic daughter was fighting for her life.Several times she was in pain asking, “Ma, can you do something? Ma, take away my pains.” I couldn’t do anything. I was crying loudly sitting beside her and asking my husband to please do something. My husband said he was going to bring medicine. My younger daughter started crying to go with him. He didn’t take her. He said he was coming back soon. We were waiting for him the whole night but he never returned again. I know why he left us. He couldn’t take this poverty and our sick daughters anymore. He always wanted a boy. He got lost because he wanted to. After that everybody started looking at me like the fault was mine. People were bad-mouthing me. This and the loneliness and guilt were all drowning me. I couldn’t take anything anymore either. I decided to commit suicide. That afternoon when everyone was working outside in the field I put a noose around my neck, hung it on the fan and swallowed a full packet of my daughter’s sleeping pills. I could not think of anything but to kill myself. I don’t remember how long it took me to pass out, but I do remember those last moments of my consciousness. My life was flashing before my eyes, and I started imagining he returned home bringing medicine for our sick daughter at my wake.

Suddenly the thought hit me; my autistic daughter! What will my daughters do? How will they survive without me in this cruel world? It was at that moment I realized that I wasn’t ready to leave this world like this; I couldn’t leave them like their father left us. I thought this would forever be the story of a defeated mother and a helpless woman’s life, nothing more. At that time, I started struggling to get the noose off, but by then I had lost all control. I woke up in a central hospital the next day. My neighbor said he found me senseless on my floor and I am lucky that the rope tore by itself. I really felt lucky to be alive for the first time in my life holding my daughters on my chest tightly. I do believe that God has given me a second chance do something good.

After that day I never thought about needing a man, a husband in order to survive and to take care of us. My failure became my greatest weapon after that incident. My failure allowed me to change my life and focus on the good. Now I work the whole day in the field and then at night I cook in a hotel. I take care of 3 other old women who are not blood-related but connected by fate. They were also abandoned by their families and live with me and my daughters now. My one daughter is now 8 and the other is 5 years old and goes to school. Every night 8-10 child workers who work with me in the field and who call me ‘Ma’ come to eat dinner with us with what I brought (leftover) from the restaurant where I cook.

Every person has a story behind their changing but not everyone’s story is beautiful. Mine is ugly but I believe everything happens for something good. He wanted to get lost. I let him. I have no complaints so I Don’t search for his address anymore._Asma Begum

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The first time my parents went with a marriage proposal to the home of my future wife, she refused our proposal after she learned that my name is Kala Chan (black moon). My mother liked her so much that I had to go myself to the bride’s home straightway to prove that I am not as black as indicated by my name.

When, I went to their home for our first meeting, she started asking me many questions. How many trees did we have at our home? Would I plant two or three trees every year in our village? Would I take her to the river for swimming every day? Would I feed poor hungry people if she wants to feed them every day? All these were her conditions to marry her.
I was just astonished and simply looked at her. She was so beautiful that I could not utter a single word and I just nodded my head.

One night while we were coming back from an invitation from another village, three bad men stopped us and took all of our money and all of the jewelry she was wearing. But suddenly when one of them grabbed my shirt to search for money, my wife became so angry that she started slapping that man and started shouting, “Why are you touching my husband? How dare you? I gave you everything! Why are you humiliating my husband?”

Seeing the situation, one of the men became very angry and lifted up his lamp to the face of my wife. Suddenly his anger melted like ice. He asked, “Are you the woman of the Mia Bari who feeds all the beggars? I went several times with my mother to eat from your house.”

They returned everything and gave us protection until we arrived home.

‌For the last 80 years we have been planting trees in our village and for the last 80 years she has been feeding poor people every single day. Furthermore, for the last 80 years we were never separated even for one day. She became my everything. Every day I fall for her beauty. I fall for her positivity and her goodness. These 80 years of life have been far more beautiful than I expected._ kala Chan (100)

 

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During our whole marriage, we always wanted a boy. We have three daughters. We gave up hope for a son or for any other children because of our age. But in our old age God give us a son as a gift. I was very ashamed and at the same time very happy when he was born. His sisters gave him his name “Rajkumar” because of his beauty. He is very much younger compared to my age. People used to make fun of me when I used to take him with me to the market calling out, “Why do you bring your grandson with you?” He became my cane in my old age. He was everywhere helping me with my work. I used to look at him surprisingly and used to pray for him to God to please protect him from bad eyes.

He wanted to go to Dhaka to work four years with his friends. I was not agreeing with my wife. I asked her why he needs to go to Dhaka to work when we have everything! But his mother gave the permission and that permission brought tragedy into our lives.

When he called me ‘abba’(father) when returning home after only one year, I couldn’t recognize my ‘Prince’. I was astonished as if looking at a stranger. He was looking very ill and unhealthy! I started crying holding him and yelling to my wife that I don’t need money. I will not let him work anymore.

Like thousands of uneducated parents, I also knew almost nothing about drug use, needles, phensedyl, a codeine medicine, nor addiction. I realized the truth when he started stealing and selling everything we have. He started stealing from our neighbors and everywhere. I thought marrying him off would make everything normal. But nothing worked. We lost our respect, our peace, and our wealth. We lost everything for him. We couldn’t sleep at night. One night he hit me and hit his mother to take money. He was out of control for everything. I tried to control him with my love and anger. But there’s no such thing as control when it comes to addiction. And it takes only one person’s addiction to destroy a whole family. We became more and more worried because he was dying every day. After three years of staying in the village he was just getting worse and he also became the father of a newborn son.

In the middle of one night last year he came into my room. I was very scared seeing him in my room. But in a very mild voice, holding my hand he said; “Abba, please help me; please save my life. My newborn son called me ‘abba’ tonight for the first time.” When my son looks at me he doesn’t see a junkie, he sees his father,He holds my fingers tightly and pleads, “Abba, I want to live!”

‌‘Robi’, my cow, is like another son to me. He has been helping with my farming for the last 4 years. I never wanted to sell him. I don’t know how I will sell this “second son” for saving the life of my other son. I Have not eaten anything since yesterday morning. Whenever I think about selling Robi, I can’t hold back my tears! But I have no other option to save my ill child. I have nothing left for my son’s treatments anymore. I came here to sell my last bit of wealth to continue my son’s treatments. And I want to make it possible for him to be with me during the next Eid Celebration and not in his grave. I want to bring him back from death. I can’t let my child die in front of my eyes! _Fotik Bepari

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No one thought my daughter could survive. I conceived after ten years of our marriage. When my daughter was born three months earlier than my delivery date, she was very premature. Everyone wanted to take her from me in the village. They told me that I should not get attached to my baby. They warned me that it will cause me severe heartbreak. I screamed at my people and my husband asked them to leave us alone. He told me that he would take us anywhere to save our child. I know from my heart that I could never lose her. No one knew that I got her in my dream; she was inside of me many years ago even before she existed. She was not new to me. I saw her face and felt I knew my child; there can be no other face but her’s. We arrived in the city. For six months my husband and I did not sleep. We did not close our eyes. My daughter was not able to breathe properly and I kept her in my lap all night long. My husband sold his rickshaw for us. Whenever her condition got worse, I held my baby to my chest and whispered in her ears not to leave me. I told her how many years I waited for her. I told her how much we loved her, how much we needed her in our lives. My husband was always silent. But he looked at her wide face and called her Moon. I told him it’s a girl so it’s better to call her Moonlight. And our love survived. Now my daughter is five years old. I can remember how I prayed to God to let my child stay with me and to take away everything else I had. I have got my daughter; her smile is enough to keep my world alive.

– Asma with her daughter Chadni (5)

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No, no, I am not an angry person and I was never an angry man in my entire life. I was a very romantic husband to my wife as she was very caring to me. But you know, three years ago a little mistake made me unpredictably angry which took 30 years of our married life away from me. That day for a silly reason, I became angry with my wife and had a big fight with her. That anger and that fight changed my life from Heaven to Hell. That day I shouted in anger ‘divorce’ to her three times and we got divorced because of my anger and one silly word. My wife cried silently and said nothing to me.

That night she left our house silently without my knowing it so I could not stop her. How can one word destroy my 30 years of a love life? My 30 years of family life? I don’t understand how a husband could become suddenly an unknown person to his wife for a silly word? She left me taking my sons and went to our daughter’s house in Dhaka and started working in a factory. I was so helpless and confused after that incident, I didn’t understand what to do! I tried to contact her but failed and she never contacted me. I used to call my daughter every day to learn news about her, but she never wanted to talk to me. I missed her and couldn’t stop myself from going to Dhaka after 2 years in order to meet her. But she wouldn’t let me enter into my daughter’s house. She threatened my daughter and told her that if I enter her house she will leave the house. I stayed with my nephew and continued to try to manage the situation. I used to stand in front of her workplace every morning when she came to work till evening when she left. After one year of waiting in the gate of her workplace finally I could manage to talk with her. I took her back to my home last month and we remarried. Now our house became Heaven again. My village people make fun of us calling us ‘Laila Mojnu’. I laugh. I don’t get angry at them anymore because I promised my wife that I will never get angry in my life ever again_ Kuddus Mia

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The day when I first broke her marriage proposal, she had come to me with two sweets in a plastic bag. She was only 12 years old so I had to break her marriage proposal as my responsibility.

But I never knew my responsibility would ever become my only duty for the next 10 years. That one sweet gesture made me do that. I fell in love with her. Tirelessly I have completed my duty to break her marriage proposal. Her father was a land owner and I was an orphan with a small paternal house on an abandoned land. But seeing me determined and doing my job with patience for a decade, my father-in-law agreed to let her marry me. I am not sorry because I rendered my father-in-law helpless in dealing with his daughter’s desire; I am not at all. I learned from one of my friends that in love, everything is fair!

I was workless when I married my princess. But it was always very hard for me to go away from her to work. It was easier for me to be hungry than to leave her alone. But I had to make the hard decision to come here to work for us. I just never could see her living in hardship. Every time I took farewell from her for going somewhere, I used to return home many times, changing the ticket’s date on the late night. Several nights I bought tickets to go for work but at the last moment I changed the ticket. It was always hard to go away from her. Returning home from the middle of the road was a very normal scene for me and to always find her waiting for me with warm rice because she also knew that I Could not go anywhere leaving her alone. It’s kind of impossible to make you understand that tender love I feel inside in my heart.

It is very hard to live without her. I feel sick and breathless when she is not in front of me. Life is difficult but God is kind enough that he gave me the chance to take her with me to work. I brought her here with me facing a lot of hardship. We have been working here for the last 5 years; we carry stones.

It will sound funny but it’s true. When she stays close to me I can work double and earn double. I feel stronger, alive and energetic when she is with me. When I see a single smile on her face everything seems okay. For the last year we have been selling eggs after work in the evening for a little extra money.

I am waiting for her arrival from our village every day now. She went there last month to prepare rooms for 5 families. Those families lost their houses and everything in the river erosion last year and took shelter in our place. Her parents are among them and are now living in our small hut. So we were planning to make rooms for them with our savings and last year we have been gathering money for making shelter for all of them. This whole month I am feeling lifeless without her but happy for our good deeds. Everyone used to say, “Love runs through the windows in poverty, but I think, “if the love is real than poverty runs through the windows!’’_ Mokter Ali

 

‘The heroes of our time’

Heroes are not born but they become heroes by their acts and deeds. A Hero is someone to whom you look up to when you are in trouble; someone who always bails you out of your troubles with a smiling face. There are still some good people left in this world who fill this planet with goodness, optimism and hope; people who make this world a better place to live in. Anybody can be a hero. Someone who helps an old lady or a small child cross a busy road or someone who earns coins for the sake of their mother’s medicines or someone who labours hard for his daughter’s food and education are also all heroes.

Yes, I am telling you about ‘The heroes of our time’; the heroes of our everyday lives and their journeys helping us with every drop of their blood and sweat in order to make our daily lives a little easier. Most are people who are performing acts of kindness or helping others and expecting nothing in return. Many have known defeat, suffering, and struggling yet they possess beautiful stories in their hearts; stories which are worthy enough to share with the world. Abdul Razzak, Fruk Mia, and Nurun Nabi are ordinary rickshaw pullers whose stories touched everyone’s heart. Their kind and heroic acts made them ‘heroes of our time’.

Here, I am sharing 10 real life stories of ‘Rickshaw pullers’ that have become the inspiration for thousands of people all over the world.

Featured first on my Facebook page: GMB Akash

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It is very hard to drive a rickshaw with just my one arm. But I can’t stand to see my family in hunger and I want to continue my children’s education. I can’t manage to drive more than 4 to 5 hours each day with one hand. I can only save very little after paying the rent for my rickshaw. Sometimes I have so much pain because of trying to balance the rickshaw single-handedly!

Just 12 days before the accident that took my arm, I came from Sherpur to Dhaka to earn my dream. I left my two children and my wife Kohinur at our village. It was Monday night and it was scorching hot even during the middle of the night. There was not a single leaf moving. I was sleeping in my rickshaw van after an entire day’s work. It was around 2 am and suddenly a loaded vegetable truck smashed into my van and my left arm. After that I can’t remember anything for the next 25 days. I heard that the butchers from the closest market took me to hospital. They paid for my operations! My wife had to sell her earrings, the only gold jewelry she had as well as the two cows we bought with our 3 years of savings.

When I came back from hospital, my only fear was how to feed my children. I am so grateful to God that he saved one of my arms and did not let me end up begging. God gave me courage to continue doing hard work and pulling this rickshaw._Deloyar Hossain (36)

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It became dark suddenly and started raining heavily with strong winds and lightning ! Everyone was running here and there for shelter and searching transportation. I saw an old lady almost soaked with rain requesting rikshaw pullers to take her, telling them she had no money but she needed to go to Sadarghat. Everybody told her rudely to go away. Nobody was interested in taking her in their vehicles without money. Seeing that, I told her to come to my rikshaw. I took her and pulled her to Sadarghat. After arriving there she started crying. She said, “I heard my grandson is severely sick but I have no money at this moment to pay for your rikshaw ride. You saw how I was requesting a ride from everyone but nobody agreed to take me without money. I don’t know how to repay your kindness!”

Every day I help at least one person who has no money but needs to go to some place. Every night I give a ride to some disabled beggar to their home for free. These are the beggars who have nobody and who are very poor. I never say no and I never take money from them.

I don’t take money from people who are in a critical situation because one night my daughter, Fatema, was very sick and I had no money at that moment. At that time I used to work as a day labourer. I asked many rikshaw pullers and taxi drivers to take me to the hospital but nobody helped me. Nobody gave us a ride because I had no money. Covered only with a polythene sheet I walked 15 km to the hospital alone holding my 5-year-old daughter during that rainy, windy, dark night. That night walking all the way I was just thinking one thing: that I will at least help one person everyday who is helpless like me.

After that incident I started riding rikshaw and I never say no to anybody who has no money. After my work every night till midnight, I search for people who need help. I don’t know that my small effort will help people or not but I know that at least they will not feel helpless for that particular moment _Faruk

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It always felt bizarre to me when my mother sent me to go to door to door asking for salt, chili, onion every day. It was almost impossible for us to cook without collecting spices from neighbors. Believe me, when I used to ask them for salt sometimes, from their looks it felt like I was asking for their heart or kidneys. Why shouldn’t they react? They were also poor and they knew that I had no ability to return their salt and chili that I was taking from them almost every day.

My mother is really old now. She is having a lot of physical problems. I drive a rickshaw the entire day so that I can manage to send her 4-5 thousand taka in money every month for her medicine and food. Between my jobs I try to pray for my mother 5 times every day. I never skip my prayers to God for my mother. My father died and left me along with my four other sisters when we were very young. I have been working the last 20 years for my family. I used to make only 15 taka a day when I was merely 9. I wished to grow up every day. I wanted to grow up in order to earn more money for my family. I have given marriages to my two elder sisters and my two younger sisters are going to school. I wake up every day at dawn for morning prayers and it helps me to drive the rickshaw for some extra hours and with that extra money I try to help with my sisters’ education. I could not go to school but I am trying my best to fulfill their own expectations for reading and studying as much they want. For that I can work every day some more hours.

I have nothing without my mother. My mother is everything to me. I visited my mother last month and took her a green saree. She loves wearing the color green. She never told me she loves green. But from the very beginning I have been seeing her wearing green sarees. You can’t imagine how happy she was seeing that saree. Her condition is not good at all. I don’t want to lose her too. She is the only umbrella over our heads. I always pray to God to please take me before her death because I might not bear the pain of losing her. – Nurun Nabi 30.

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Last year I had a strange passenger in my rickshaw who was very worried about something. He was roaming around from one location to another in my rickshaw like a distraught and insane man for almost two hours. I was very afraid to ask him what the problem was that he is going through? I am a poor uneducated man and he was in a very bad mood. Finally, I discovered when he started to talk on his phone that his wife was in very critical condition in the emergency room. She needed the group type A- blood as soon as possible, otherwise it would be very difficult to save her life. After some time when he dropped his phone, with hesitation I softly asked him, “Baba, would you mind if I ask you to take my blood? I tested my blood last year for an illness and I am aware that I have the same blood type A- that you need for your wife. I am a very honest person with no bad habits and I pray 5 times a day. My only problem is that I am a poor man. Do you have problems taking the blood of a poor person and would you let me give my blood to your wife?” That man, whom I was feeling very afraid of asking a minute ago, started sobbing uncontrollably holding me closely. He hugged me so tightly that I could feel how broken he was at that moment.

I gave my blood at the emergency room and it took 2 hours for everything. But during those two hours I felt like a very special person to everyone as well as to myself; something I had never felt before. That man didn’t ask me if he could give me money because he didn’t want to buy my blood; rather he asked me if he could call me ‘Father’. I never felt so precious and valuable before that moment. Giving my blood that day changed my view of seeing my life as a poor inferior man. I don’t feel poor anymore knowing that I have the same blood to save a rich person’s life_ Abdul Razzak

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Poor people like me have no rest in their life; no retirement. Our lives are miserable. We have to work even just before going to the graveyard. If I will not work even one day my whole family have to suffer for that whole day. I am 65 years old and for me now riding rickshaw during this heavy rain is very difficult work. Sometimes my whole body gets wet even though I wear a plastic coat. At those times I feel so cold that I can’t breathe nor even stand-up. When it’s raining with heavy winds then it’s even more difficult for me to pull the rickshaw because I need a lot more energy to drag the rickshaw through the wind. My plastic coat protects some parts of my body but my face, hands and feet get wet all the time. My hands and feet get so severally cold that they feel bloodless and numb. 


I don’t stop riding rickshaw during the rain because at that time some passengers give me extra money. Yesterday, a father was looking for a rickshaw with his daughter for going to school for a while. There was no rickshaw on the street because it was raining heavily. I was sitting in a tea stall’s shed beside the stove to warm myself up. I was very tired and cold. I was not able to ride anymore that morning after getting wet from the early morning rides. But when I saw they are getting wet and waiting for a long time, I could not stop myself even if I was already so cold and weak. I took them to school and the father and daughter were so grateful to me. When I reached the front of the school, the girl took a 500 taka note from her father and gave it to me and told me dadu ( grand father ) buy something for yourself. I took iftar and bazar for my family with that money. 


During this Ramadan I still need to work. And I cannot be fasting. I was fasting during the first Ramadan. But my wife and two daughters never miss their fasting nor prayers. If I will fast I will not be able to work and earn for their Sehery food. I hope Allah will forgive me for my sacrifice and will grant my family blessings for their fasting and prayers_ Borhan Uddin

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We always wanted a daughter. But we have three sons. I often told my wife only fortunate have daughter. I am working as a rickshaw puller for more than thirty years. Most of my passengers were bad tempered. They always scolded me. One morning a father hired me to take his daughter to the college. He requested me to be careful in the road. He told his daughter to hold the rickshaw tightly. Before we left he told me to go slowly so the girl may not get hurt. On our way after sometime I heard the girl was crying insanely. I tried to look back and wanted to ask her if everything was okay. She scolded me and warned me not to look back. After a while she asked me to stop and started calling someone by her phone. She was screaming and crying all the time.

I understood she supposed to escape from home with a boy. He did not show up. Suddenly she jumped from the rickshaw, left the money in the seat and quickly went to the train line. I was about to leave, felt sorry for the father and thought it may be good not to have a daughter. But I was not able to paddle further; I heard her father was requesting me to be careful. I parked my vehicle and ran for the girl. She was in the rail line, moving like a sick person to harm herself. I went near to her and requested her to go back with me. She yelled at me, called me uneducated stupid, in between she kept crying insanely. I was afraid to leave her in that empty place. I let her cry, as much as she wanted. Almost three hours we were there and rain was about to come. Before the rain starts she got up and asked me to bring the rickshaw. We did not talk about anything. In the rain I paddled quickly. I dropped her near her house. Before I left she stopped me and said, ‘Uncle, you should never come at my place again, never tell anyone you know me.’ I lowered my head and returned to home. That day I did not talk to anyone, I did not eat anything. I told myself it was better not to have a daughter. After more than eight years, very recently I had an accident. I was kind of senseless. Public took me to the hospital;. When I got back my sense I saw the girl was working near me, she asked me how I was feeling, why I never went to meet her. It was hard for me to recognize the girl in white dress, in spectacle and stethoscope. My treatment went well. I was taken to a big doctor. I was listening to her telling him, ‘Sir, he is my father’. The old doctor told her something in English. Then she touched my injured hand and replied him, ‘If this father did not support me in the past, I won’t be able to become a doctor’. I was lying in a narrow bed and tightly shut my eyes. I cannot tell anyone how I felt. This rickshaw puller has a daughter, a doctor daughter. – Bablu Shekh (55)

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Papiya asked me to leave before she become weak to leave me. She told me to go somewhere, where she will never be able to come, or find me again. None of us cried. We knew that was the last time we were seeing each other. I moved from my neighbour’s village silently. I walked very slowly to remember everything of my life. I and Papiya used to go to school together. The field I was passing was the place where one day I fainted after seeing a snake. Papiya was always brave, she took that snake in a stick and throw into the water. I laughed a lot by thinking about all those stupid things. Both of us are very poor. Many days, our families are unable to eat anything other than rice. During flood we starved countless days. And then Papiya was chosen by a rich family, she will be able to take care her siblings and sick mother after her marriage. I wanted to be selfish, I wanted to tell her to come with me and fly somewhere. But then I could not. I wanted to see her happy even at the cost of leaving me. When I explained her how much I wanted her happiness, she did not respond. She only asked me, ‘is that the suffering of food is greater than suffering of love?’ I was silent and when I saw tears in her eyes, for the first and last time, I lovingly touched her cheeks. It’s been six months, I am in the city, riding rickshaw and sleeping here and there. Papiya is married and gone far. In this life, I will never be able to love someone as like I loved her. When we were giving SSC exam she gave me an amulet so I never feel fear. This is the only thing I tied in my hand and carry all the time. We promised that we will never meet each other again, we will never talk. Half of the year has gone. She will never know that in my mind every second I am talking to her. I talk to her, question her, laugh and cry with her. It’s hard to stop this, it’s hard to forget. – Rafiq (19)

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If I had not started pulling a rickshaw in 2014 for the first time in my life, my education would have stopped at that point. I started driving a rickshaw when I was in class eight. Now I am doing a diploma on Textile Engineering of Garment designing in Dinajpur.

This time I came for ten days to drive a Rickshaw during Eid festival time. During this Eid festival people pay a little more. After earning 10 thousand taka in 10 days I will be going back and continuing my education. I need 6000 taka for each semester and 4000 taka for other expenses for my education. My institution gave me 60% waiver when they came to know that I am driving a rickshaw to support my education.

I am the only one from my entire village who came to Dhaka to drive a Rickshaw to pay for education. In the beginning my friends were laughing at me all the time, but I made them understand how important my education is and after my graduation I want to be a textile engineer. My friends are so proud of me nowadays and two of them want to follow my path to continue their education.

My mother worries about me a lot, after I came to this big city. My mother calls me several times a day and keeps asking me what I eat, what I am doing, which makes me so weak and fragile. I sometimes feel like going back home for my mother. That is the reason most of the time I keep my mobile phone switched off so she can’t call me and I can be stronger and continue the rest of the days.

Yesterday was Eid day and I worked until late at night, I missed my parents so much. This is the first time I passed my Eid without my mother. This the first time I could not touch my mother’s feet and get blessings from her after returning from prayers._ Akheruzzaman 18

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My mother always hid something from me. I also tried to find out what she was hiding from me. In village when we went to any function, people pointed at me and talked to each other by saying how unfortunate boy I was. When I told that to my mother, she cried nervously and asked me what I came to know. I said, ‘nothing’, then she hugged me and asked me never to believe anyone. Whenever she spoke those things I felt very afraid and assured her I will never believe anyone. One day I heard my father fighting with my mother for spending money on me. He blamed her for being a bad woman, blamed for caring for a child whose mother left him. That day I came to know, I was three months old when my biological mother left me. My adopted mother brought me at home without any ones support. When my mother knew that I heard everything, she cried a lot, she took me on her arms and told me that she was my mother, asked me not to believe anyone. I was ten years old, only understood I was the problem for my mother; Only understood everyone believed I was an unfortunate boy. After some days of that incident I flew from my village.

When I arrived to the city, I was just ten. The place, it’s people and my life was strange to me. When I was crying by sitting alone in the bridge, Falan, Sumon , Jewel called me and let me to sleep with them. During first night I cried a lot, no one stopped me and some cried with me too. I did not cry for the mother who left me, I cried for my mother whom I missed every minute, even missing now at this moment. I cannot forget her, she is always here, in my heart. Every year I go to visit her. No one else likes to see me except her. When I enter in the house Ammu holds me like I am a little baby. I feel awkward and tell her not to love me this much. Last time she cried a lot, told me how much she prays so I can find happiness and love. I told her I have found enough love. I have friends who have no one just like me. We earn and spend together; we fight during day and sleep on each other’s hand at night. I have my own family now, a different family, where we do not have to tell anyone who is our parents or where do we belong. We just have us and enough love. – Raju (17)

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I don’t know when the last time I took any rest or ate well at dinner. I work whole the day. This work is keeping my mother and my family alive. My mother is suffering from a stomach disease for which I am providing her treatment by sending money every week. Along with my mother and father I have to take care of all of our 6-member family.

In Dhaka City the dogs are more valuable than a rikshaw puller. People even behave nicely with dogs but not with rikshaw pullers. No oneknows why we come here leaving our loved ones in order to care for them and nor that we have to pull the rikshaw like a horse that is racing the whole the day!

I don’t like this job at all, I feel very scared pulling a rikshaw on this busy road. I don’t feel worried for my own life but for our six lives all together depending on me. Without me there is no one to feed them even once. If anything would happen to me or if I would die, they all would have to die without me working. So I don’t have any other option.

I left my wife, Rotna and my twin sons, Roton and Ridoy at our village. Sometimes I just want to see them and hold my sons’ faces. But I can only go to visit them once every six months. I promised my sons that I will bring two new school bags for them. They are waiting for me desperately as I am also waiting to hold them against my chest_ Rubel 29

 

Plight of Rohingya Children

An estimated 693,000 Rohingya have been driven into Bangladesh (as of April 2018). Over half of them are children who have fled following an extreme escalation of violence, with most now living in flimsy plastic tents in overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar. When hundreds of thousands of terrified Rohingya refugees began flooding onto the beaches and paddy fields of southern Bangladesh, it was the children – who made up nearly 60 percent of their number – who caught most of the attention of many people. The momentum and scale of arrivals make this the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis. Over 1,400 children have arrived by themselves after witnessing the deaths of their parents and loved one. Today, there are an estimated 720,000 Rohingya children in Bangladesh and Myanmar, in dire need of humanitarian assistance and protection – and looking to the outside world for help.

Children deserve to grow up in a world free from fear, surrounded by those who love them—enabling them to live life in all its fullness.  The world would be shocked by seeing the conditions that the children living in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar are facing, instead. Make no mistake that this crisis is a children’s emergency. These children’s worlds have been torn apart brutally. They have gone suddenly from living in a community where they know the neighborhood, having close friends, a routine, a good variety of food and safe places to play to a chaotic, overcrowded and frightening unknown place. Many are orphaned and lost, living in a perpetual state of anxiety. After all this, we cannot expect Rohingya children to overcome the traumatic experiences they’ve suffered when further exposed to insecurity and fears of violence in the camps. But at least we can pray and ask for help for these children’s safety and a better future.

Sharing here with you some heart-wrenching images of Rohingya children who have experienced unforgettable misery, violence, pain and anguish in their short lives. These images will melt your soul forever. Alone, distressed, terrified but hopefully not abandoned by the world at large.

Featured first on my Facebook page: GMB Akash

 

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Life In Colour

From the beginning of my career I have been working for those people who are living on the edge of society. When I started working with these people I surprisingly discovered that – life has taken all colours from them, but they are still cherishing every moment of their life with colour. Colour is their courage; colour creates enthusiasm for them to fight in order to live for another day. A person, who has nothing, has colour in life. In the beginning of my career, I took all black & white photographs of those who were colourful.  I found out poverty, sorrow and depression become vivid if I skip colour from their lives.

Sharing a few of my colour works and the people who always inspired me to become a colour photographer as well as to live a colourful life.

 

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Presently, I have been working in colour. A street child, a labourer on a road or even a homeless lady – all of them have colour. People who are fighting everyday to live life are heroes to me and these heroes represent colour. Their skin tone, their clothes, their living places all are colourful and powerful. They are deprived from all happiness in life but yet they are treating themselves with colour. While I discover the truth I learned to capture the mood of colour on them.

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By capturing these colour moments, I have learned that –a few hints of red, blue and yellow gives inspiration to our lives. People who are fighting for survival without anything in this world are healing their pains by indulging in colour.

Daily life in Kathmandu, Nepal. 2006

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Trafficked to Hell

“It’s been 12 years that I have been familiar to them; not only as a photographer but also as a brother. Whenever I go there, they run towards me calling out “Akash Bhai!” They bring me sweets, tea and speaks and talk a lot about their dreams. These girls are weak from lack of affection.  I once treated them as sisters so now they have granted me the honour of being their brother. No one knows the story of these faceless girls who are sold by their boyfriend, husband or parents. This is a one-way journey to a brothel; a place that is everything to them. By documenting them, I would like to spread their stories of pain which are only locked in each of their own madam’s castle. I recall one girl from those uncountable faces. Unsurprisingly – and despite her name – Asha, she isn’t very hopeful about her own future. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever get married nor have children,’ she says. ‘No one will marry me. If they did, they’d only keep me for two or three days, and then they’d sell me back.’ She is more streetwise than some of the other girls here, many of whom share a tragic dream that one day a knight in shining armour will arrive to carry them off; then they will marry him, have his babies and love him forever. I wish there would be a knight in shining armour arriving, to carry them out from this living hell! I do wish this.  I really wish it!” – GMB Akash

Sharing 10 souls and heart melting stories of 10 sisters who work as sex workers in different brothels in Bangladesh.

Featured first on my Facebook page: GMB Akash

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I came here eight years ago because once I believed in love and married the man, for whom I became a prostitute. My husband of one year brought me here and sold me to this brothel for money. For the last 7 years I have had to work here to repay that 30 thousand taka,for which my husband sold me here.

I used to call our madam ‘Maa’. She is very generous to me and loves me like her daughter and for that I got the chance to repay the money and leave here. She allowed me to go back to my former life. Last year, with thousands of dreams, I went back to my village to my parents’ home, but nobody accepted me; neither my parents, nor my family members, nor the villagers. They didn’t allow me into my own home nor into the village because they think I am a dirty thing now, they said, “even we don’t eat that food when it falls down to the ground.” Some people were saying, “we never take back the dirt from our dustbin!” I cried the whole day and night till the next morning sitting beside my home, but no one cared and they were looking at me with hatred. But you know, when I saw my husband remarried and living in the same village, I came back to my ‘maa and my Hell.

At least this Hell allows me to live: to survive, to eat, to have space where I can sleep at night. Here I don’t need to see that cruel hatred for me in the eyes of my loved one_ Nilima

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I never wanted to be a mother in my life. My grandma was a sex worker; my mother is a sex worker, so this is not an exception for me. This is the oldest profession of our family; this is a chain that is ongoing. I have wanted to break this chain all of my life by not becoming a mother. But you know what? It’s very hard to stop the cycle of nature! I saw all of my mother’s pain being a sex worker. I saw how she felt standing in the same alley with me searching for customers. I know how it feels sharing the same customer who would sleep with your daughter the next day. I saw her attempting suicide in our room; fortunately, she survived.

I never wanted to be a mother but when I realized that I was pregnant, my mind changed tremendously; I didn’t want to kill my child. Everyone told me to get an abortion but I could not do it. Our madam pressured me for an abortion but I was protecting my baby with all the energy I had. Madam called the Babu, who used to come to me the most and who had once promised me that he would marry me! She told him that this might be his child and that I could blackmail him anytime! Babu beat me ruthlessly and tried to force me (to abort from his beating OR to have an abortion) but I convinced him to stop by embracing his feet and begging him for the life of my child. I signed a contract and assured him that I will never want anyone’s name for my child.

Becoming a mother is not an easy task in these brothels. Lots of women have died because of improper treatment. I had to battle a lot every day with pregnancy sickness and at the same time, I had to attend to my target customers. Some people are very ruthless and ill minded; they like pregnant women for their own indulgence and entertainment. I prayed to God for a baby boy during the whole period of my pregnancy but it’s a girl again in our family. God didn’t listen to me. Everyone is telling me this will happen again. But I am determined to get her out from this Hell. After all of this, I am not deterred from my goal; I will break this woeful chain. If a mother wants a good life for her child, nothing can stop her_ shopna

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Everyone says we are bad women because we do this work; because we are sex workers. Yes, you people are right. I have never seen someone doing prostitution as a hobby in our community in my life. No one choses prostitution as a hobby. But I have seen a lot of people who have wives and family come to me for fun to indulge themselves. I was born here and started my job at the age of eight. My mother tried a lot to send me somewhere safe. She cried day and night to send me somewhere else away from this brothel. But our madam didn’t permit it because I was in such demand for a lot of clients from the beginning because of my age and youthfulness. It’s very difficult to work in front of your mother but here luckily, every woman learns the trick to kill your soul and become a dead body.

I wait hours for my clients and during these hours I have nowhere to sit. I need to stand for hours and do bodily movements and use vulgar slang in order to get a client. I look so skinny so last month my madam started giving me some tablets that make me look fat and sexy. Men choose young and healthy workers because they complain that old workers are depressing. Getting a client is also like winning a battle because I have to compete with other workers and reach my target: ‘8 clients per night’. But when I get a client it is a mixed feeling as if I have won the battle but lost at the same time. I make my living and buy my food by selling my body and dignity.

Because I have to stand the whole time, for hours my leg hurts badly when I go to sleep. We can’t take an extra minute for eating, bathing or even using the toilet. If you are late for an extra minute you will get some slaps for a bonus. We can only get some time for sitting when we put our makeup on. It feels exhausting after finishing my target every night. I get such a small portion of food that even after finishing my full meal, I feel hungry all night. I never have seen a family in my life. I wish someone would marry me so that I could have a family. – Maya

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I can recall the first incident of sexual harassment in my life. My mother and I were used to learning the Quran from our Moulovi every evening after finishing all our work. That evening my mother fell asleep because of her sickness so I had to sit alone with him to learn my Arabic lesson. Suddenly I was feeling uneasy. I felt that he was touching my right hand in a bad way. Although I was only an eight-year-old girl I could understand the bad vibes of his touching. I was shaking in fear and started feeling like something was stuck in my throat. I held my tears and ran to our washroom and started washing my hand with soap like a mad girl. I washed my hand for the next two hours nonstop crying relentlessly until my mother made me understand that this will never happen again.

I came here because I am a misfortunate woman; if it was not my bad luck then how can I lose both of my parents in a rail station? There was one porter who found me and he helped me to search for my parents the whole day and then waited til dusk. But I found no one; I never found them again just like I never find my luck. I lived for the next few days with the porter family who found me but his wife never liked me. She started fighting with him about me every single day. The last evening in that home she handed me over to her brother and he brought me here. It all happened like the worst possible dream I was having and it was happening in my life.

The first day, I did not allow my client to open my dress. He got so angry and tried so hard that he tore apart all my clothes but he could not manage me. After that incident my madam beats me miserably and for the next three days she forced me to sleep naked and locked me without food in a room. On day four I got my food and a new client but I didn’t get my clothes back for several days. After that day I accepted my fate. I accepted men in my room and in my life. But I could not accept men in my soul. Maybe that’s why I feel like I’m being raped every night several times. It feels I can no longer live this life for one more day and be raped by a stranger in exchange for money and a living.

Every single day I am passing in this dark hell only with the help of the cheapest drugs provided by our madam. Now I don’t wash myself anymore because no one is here to tell me this will never happen again. I don’t cry because no one will tell me to stop crying and hold me to her chest tightly. Now I am learning to die every day_ Ovagi (unlucky)

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It’s been a long time I want to go to a very green field. I have never been in any green field. But I really want to go. I have a disease, I cannot breathe behind a closed door. I also cry while I laugh, I can’t control. It’s causing a lot of trouble to our mother. Our mother is our madam. I assured her I will be okay very soon, I will only laugh, will never cry. How I came to this brothel, I have no idea; I was too small to remember anything. But my only problem is, it’s very difficult to breathe here. Also I have no memory of any person; I do not see any face when I close my eyes, I feel all alone. Girls used to say they have no one too. But I tell myself, I must have someone, somewhere, may be a mother, a father or a lost family. I never had anyone to remember. So I try hard to remember a face, just any face, and there comes no one. My friend, Prinyanka usually wipes off my tears very quickly before I ruin my makeup. She always reminds me, makeup is costly than my tears. She told me that one day we will go to a green field, she will take me there and I will breathe as much as I can. Only I hope, on that day I will be able to see someone when I will close my eyes. At least once in my life, I want to feel that I am not alone.
– Afsana

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It has been ages since I went out of these four walls. These dirty walls are as colorless as I am. Light has never been able to enter my room or my life. The windows are too narrow for that. I helplessly scream in pain but my voice never reaches anyone, not even myself. Everyone sees me smiling because no one ever pays attention to my eyes. Even after all these battles, I remained a fancy girl. I ask people to bring me flowers, only those which has no fragrance. I never look in the mirror because I was never capable of looking into the eyes of this girl; this girl crying within me. I was sold by my husband for 3000 taka. I laughed a lot when I found that out how cheap the price of my love was to him. For me, the price of my love was very high, and I’m still paying for it. Sometimes it’s very hard to breathe. I want to dry my tears under the sun, or maybe get wet in the rain and let my tears flow with it. But where should I go? Who should I go to? No one waits for a prostitute. I cannot go anywhere. Now, I try to trust the lies, try to smile, and try to sell my love at good price. – Asha

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I am a liar. All my life I lied to myself. Whenever my heart shows me the truth, I beautifully lied to it. It’s very difficult for me to tell you the truth. I am also feeling nervous because I want you to show how strong I am, I do not want to show the dumb girl living inside me. I was sold when I was in my mother’s womb. They traded me before I was born. I was a born prostitute. I never had any friend, family or lover. No man looked into my eyes, or held my hand with love. But you know something; everyone needs someone, someone to love or someone to hurt. And I have no one. I sold my heart in the cost of lies without regret of suffering. Sometimes I feel, the time has stopped and I am sitting in the same place for ages. One day, I fell sick, very sick and I was taken to an old doctor. I was shivering in fever and started crying for no reason when the old man called me, ‘Maa, what’s your problem’. At the end of the prescription, he advised me to avoid things that are allergatic. I supposed to leave, but I was aimlessly sitting there. Then he asked me again to tell if I had something else to say. With great fear I asked him, ‘Sir, I am allergatic to love and lie, but that’s my life is all about, do you have any remedy?’ After a few minutes, the old doctor stood from his chair and blessed me by touching my head. That was the first time in my life someone touched me with respect and care. – Rubi

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I did not want to kill him. I wanted him to be in my life. I knew that if anyone could find it out, they would kill him. But I was able to hide him for many months. Then sometimes in morning when I went to sleep I asked myself why to punish someone by bringing into my life which has no hope, no tomorrow. But he was the only one with whom I talk like a child without being afraid, without being someone else. He also responded in my stomach like a butterfly by assuring that he will never leave me.

The day my madam found out I was pregnant; she wanted to kill my child. She was trying to kick me and I held her legs. I screamed, begged her to give me a chance to live. I did not leave her feet for how long I cannot say; then she stopped pushing me and asked me why I wanted to bring lifetime suffering. She left without hurting me anymore.

Then the time arrived. During delivery I had eclampsia and severe blood loss. Through the entire time I did not stop talking to my child, I whispered to him that we had to make the journey. Till then we survived many miracles. He was then three months old, his only favorite thing was bird. But we were caged; I was not able to show him any bird. We had no room and I had to go back to attend clients. With every passing day, I was afraid that one day my boy will hate me most. But whenever I looked at him he always smiled by assuring that all I had is him.

He was three months twenty days old when I handover him to a childless couple. They were crying after holding my baby. I looked from distant; felt he was in the right hands. My madam requested me to keep Murad, told me that I won’t survive without him. But my mother heart felt Murad will be happy with them than me. When they were leaving, the woman came to me, put a packet of money in my bag and said they will keep his name Murad, they will not change it. I said nothing. Then the man came closer to show me Murad for the last time. Told me that when he will grow older they will bring him back to me and if he wants to be with me, they won’t stop him. I looked at my child, he smiled to me like always. I said, ‘Never tell him, his mother was a prostitute. Never let him to search me. He should never know he was born in a cage. I want him to be a bird, to fly in the sky, if you can, helps him to do that.’ I returned their packet and was able to come back to the brothel without looking back; I do not want my child to smile at a prostitute. – Momota

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My uncle sold me in the brothel when I was nine, that time I was innocent. A type of innocent that I had no idea what is the difference between a mosque and a brothel….

A few days ago I was not in a mood for love, when my client was promising how much he loved me and how badly he wanted to take me away from this living hell to his beautiful heaven. With promises he kept telling me how badly he wanted to marry me; I was not up for drama that day, I just secretly dial his wife’s number from his phone. Then I continued to listen to him attentively, for solid thirty minutes in pin drop silence. When he asked me how I felt about him, I handover his phone and told him to ask his wife..

Yes, I am badass woman, I smoke, I sing, I dance. I’m tough and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, it’s okay. No one knows me or loves me completely. I have only myself, which is enough. Now excuse me, your attention won’t pay my bills.
– Princess Lucky

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I had a very bad habit of falling in love with people whenever they showed me some love. I never get any love from anyone; I don’t even remember my family members or where I come from. I get nothing except extreme torture to my body and humiliation from people during my whole life in this place. I have fallen in love several times with a lot of my Ford customers or with whoever showed me their love and some compassion for me. Lots of men promise me that they will marry me and give me a family and then cheat me with money and flee never to be seen again. Though I know men cannot be trusted and they have broken my heart so badly but somehow I believed them and fell in love again and again. I don’t fall in love anymore. Now I know love is not for us. We prostitutes don’t belong to ‘Love’. People don’t think of us as human beings; how could they possibly love us?

For the last week, a strange middle-aged man has been visiting me. He was holding a bag in his hand with different sarees and machine-made blouses every day. The first day he came with a red bridal saree and asked me to wear it. He showed me a photo of a woman and asked me to put on my makeup like her as much as possible. At first, I laughed at him but after seeing his seriousness, I tried to put on the makeup myself following that photo. It was a very funny experience for me. That man sat with me the rest of the night but said no words and did nothing to me. That night was a very uncommon night for me. Then the next day he came with another ordinary saree and asked me to wear that one. With hesitation, I asked why he was doing these kinds of strange acts every night. And I was not prepared for his answer. His wife fled with someone else after their love marriage and he never married again after that incident.

That day he told me a lot about himself and his story and we fell asleep together. For the last week he has been coming every night for the whole night only to sleep beside me. I don’t know why I am feeling worried. I think I fell in love again with that strange man. I have been waiting the whole day for him and for when it will get dark and my strange man will come. I am waiting for him, brother. Last night was a very bad night for me. I didn’t sleep the whole night waiting for him but he didn’t show up. I am eagerly waiting and wishing that he will show up tonight_Ontora

 

 

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